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How to Survive Extreme Weather

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Bright sun and heavy clouds

It might be, that as we get a little older, we recall memories of the weather with slightly rose-tinted specs. Often you hear people talk about how they remember the weather being so much warmer or calmer, more sunny and benign. But there could also be an element of truth here. There's certainly a case to be made for the argument that weather in recent years around the planet seems to be getting much worse; more extreme. Whether or not the world's weather is actually getting worse, the fact remains extreme weather conditions do exist. This entry will help you survive these weather extremes.


Sunlight hits the earth most directly between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and as a result, this area sees the most tourism in the colder months of the northern and southern hemispheres.

Bleached-out victims of cold weather immediately want to hit the beach and start working on the perfect tan. And the belief is that since it's winter where they're from, the sun can't be all that strong here, either. However, no matter what time of year you arrive, the sun of the tropics will burn unshielded skin in less than 20 minutes. Your best bet is to start out with the highest sun protection you can find. The US Food and Drug Administration has set the highest sun protection factor at SPF 30. This is considered total occlusion.

If you are going to be in, on, or near the water, you must protect yourself at this level since the reflected rays can be stronger than the direct ones. You should also limit your exposure to the sun to no more than a total of one hour on the first day. Believe it or not, this includes time spent going from car to building, lobby to pool, and shop to shop. It adds up quickly, and sun exposure is cumulative every minute you are out. Remember that riding in an open car is the same as laying by a pool, except you're probably getting wind damage as well.

You will notice that even with SPF 30 protection, some reddening of the skin will occur. This will brown down within 24 hours, and your tan will begin. Once the skin begins to protect itself with melanin, you can gradually lower the SPF factor of your protection and get on with the tan. Above all, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Inside and out. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, and use mist or apply more moisturizer to your skin as often as possible.

No matter how hard you work on a tan, your skin will slough off the dead cells within 72 hours of your last exposure. While it may be worth it to lord a tan over your mates in the pub, it won't last long enough to justify the deep cell damage, and succeptibility to melanomas and other cancers that tropical sun exposure causes.

You will find that people who live in tropical locales avoid the sun. They may tell you that they work all the time and don't go to the beach, but the truth is, they know better. They just don't want skin that looks like a leather saddle by the age of 35.

If you're travelling in extreme heat, it's a good idea to carry a jug of water in your car, in case a breakdown causes you to be stranded on a long road with no gas station nearby. Every once in a while, someone dies waiting inside their hot car for some sort of assistance to arrive. The worst thing about this sort of death is that is so easily preventable.

If you have not got air conditioning, one way to keep your house cool in the summer is to close all the windows and draw all the curtains during the day, and open all the windows at night. This method is used by Italians, where it does get hot in the summer. The only problem with leaving your windows open is that the mosquitos will come hurtling in.


There is scarcely a place on Earth that a tornado of some description or another cannot form. If the right conditions prevail, a moisture-laden low overlaid with the straight line winds of a high pressure cell can bring them to life in a matter of minutes. And that is the most insidious thing about tornadoes. You have seconds, not hours, to react.

Luckily, the right conditions are generally limited to known periods of meteorological activity. If it's hot and humid, conditions are good.

Your first indication that a tornado is coming is generally the formation of a thunderstorm. There's an eerie stillness as the pressure is sucked away. The air is still and calm. No birds, no insect sounds. Cumulo-nimbus clouds build into towers, called supercells, and the normal afternoon thundershower begins to take on incredible energy. Lightning, dark green roiling skies, and continuous thunder are the precursors to the worst. When you watch the horizon, little letter "J" wisps begin to descend earthward.

When the first one connects with the ground, the heat feeds the vortex, and the tornado is born, marching or racing with the wind speed of the supercell that spawns it. Driving rain begins, and the roar at ground zero is deafening.

Depending on the category, wind speeds may exceed 150 miles an hour. Actually, winds may go much higher than 150 mph; tornadoes have had their wind speeds clocked by mobile Doppler at 318 mph. At 150 miles an hour, a broomstraw will penetrate a 2x4 plank of wood without breaking. It's not unusual to find pine needles driven a half inch into a cinder block foundation wall.

The safest place is underground. If it sticks up, a tornado will cut it off. Tree, house, bridge, underpass, person, car, truck, no matter. No joking here, either. The path is always well defined, and everything is gone. Some are ten feet wide, the worst known had a path of destruction over a mile and a half wide. And no above ground structure ever made has been known to survive a direct hit.

Structures have been built which are capable of surviving a direct tornado hit, they are called 'safe rooms' and are being built into many new homes in America's tornado-prone regions.

Failing an underground structure, find an open ditch, or a culvert. If you are at home, get in the innermost closet or bath, preferably without windows. Pull over you every mattress, cloak or padding you can find in 15 seconds. It's better if everyone is together.

The only up side is that tornadoes usually pass quickly.

You may only have seconds, so it's a good idea to keep an eye and ear on reliable local weather during stormy weather. Keep a battery-powered radio handy in case you lose power.

If you are in a car do not try to outrun a tornado. Find a ditch, a culvert, or an underpass and get out of your car.

Although video of tornadoes can get lots of exposure in the media, dying for a story is not something that crosses the mind of most amateur videographers; protect yourself first.

Here is one Researcher's explanation of the warning process;

First the National Weather Service may spot an area on regular or Doppler radar that has a 'hook echo' characteristic of tight circulation embedded within a thunderstorm. They will then issue a warning for areas in the path of this hook echo. This method can produce warning times of up to half an hour. The fun part is that the existence of a hook echo does not always mean that there is either a funnel cloud (a tornado in the air that has not yet touched down) or an actual tornado present in the storm ...
The second method is more certain but does not give as much warning: weather spotters in coordination with local law enforcement agencies may report tornadoes or funnel clouds they have sighted. Then the warning sirens are sounded (they sound like air raid sirens). This method does not give long warning times, maybe five minutes...
I have called in three funnel clouds but have yet to actually see a tornado on the ground. One funnel cloud actually passed directly over me, it was beautiful, long and sinuous, silver coloured, and very large. The scale is not captured by television cameras.
In any case, we now have warning times of up to twenty minutes due to better radars. With the old method of reporting tornadoes we were lucky to have two minutes of warning. Fewer people die today because of improved warning times.
You really have not lived until the skies are dark and greenish, the rain and your neighbour's lawn furniture blow sideways past your front window, and you hear those sirens ...

Cold Weather

There is nothing worse than when cold weather chills you to the marrow and turns your entrails to ice. Below are a few tips to help you survive cold weather extremes.

Ski jackets and coats are especially good at trapping your body heat and using it to warm you. Fur coats also do a super job, but of course many people have special reasons for staying away from furs. Don't assume that a fake fur coat will necessary provide the same benefits. Fake fur coats often fail to provide good protection from cold weather.

Never be afraid to wear many layers of clothing. You might wear flannel underwear on very cold days, and cover that with a shirt and trousers, plus a sweater, coat, heavy socks, boots, gloves, and a hat.

And do remember that your head is where most of your body heat escapes from. A simple winter hat will do more to protect your internal body temperature than any number of socks or sweaters will.

Sunscreen is important for people in cold climates too. Many cold areas get lots of snow, which reflects the sun back at your face instead of absorbing the light like grass or pavement. Also, many cold areas are high altitude environments where there is literally less atmosphere protecting you from the sun's rays. In really high altitudes, it's not a bad idea to put on sunscreen (or make-up with an SPF factor) daily.

Finally, people moving to a cold, dry climate for the first time will often get dehydrated. Drink plenty of fluids and invest in some lip gloss or chapstick right away. Unexperienced travellers may notice their lips peeling after a few days and it can take them a long and painful time to heal.

Elderly people are especially prone to heat stroke and pneumonia. Unfortunately, they are also the most likely people to be living in older houses without adequate air conditioning or heating. For this reason, you should donate coats or cooling fans to your local charity organization if you live in a very hot or cold place.

Also, do stop and offer roadside assistance if you see someone's car has broken down during a heat wave or blizzard. It may seem like a waste of time, but remember that you could easily be saving someone's life.

Heavy Snow

Snow can really screw up your day. If it's really heavy snow, then it will screw any plans you had even further. Below you'll find some pointers on how to deal with this nightmare scenario.

  • Heavy snow, and you need to travel somewhere.

  • Well, unless your destination is within walking distance, forget it, unless you happen to drive a snowplough, in which case get to work. If you're going to walk, wear snowshoes. Or tennis rackets attached to your shoes are rumoured to work. Basically, you need a really big surface area, to stop you sinking through the snow. Wrap up warm! If you have a medical emergency, call the authorities. If the worst comes to worst your ambulance will be a snowplow.

  • Heavy snow, and you are already travelling somewhere.

  • If you are on public transport, you'll be told what to do (or things will just be as normal, except for delays). If you're not sure, ask someone official. In private transport (ie cars), drive carefully and use a higher gear, with lower revs to reduce the chance of skidding. Obviously, reduce your speed - stopping distances will be in the order of ten times that of ideal conditions. If you are walking, take care, especially if you're walking alongside roads. Try and wear reflective and/or bright coloured clothes, so you will be seen more easily, although it's probably not the best idea to wear white...

    In areas where heavy snow is likely to fall, always carry a blanket in your trunk/boot. Carry a flashlight/torch, a bright-coloured kerchief, matches, some chocolate bars, a cell phone, maybe a book, and a sign that says HELP in big day-glow letters. Do not get out of your car - you vehicle will get noticed long before you will. If you get stuck, put the HELP sign in your window, tie the kerchief to your car's antenna, turn off the engine, and curl up in the blanket. Do not run your car's engine for more than a few minutes at a time and do not do this frequently to warm up. If your car's exhaust becomes blocked with snow you may be found toasty, warm, and quite dead due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Minor frostbite on a chilly living person is preferable to the aforementioned warm dead person.

  • Snowbound

  • If you really can't get anywhere, and have no means of communication (ie mobile phone), you might want to think about digging in. You need to dig yourself a hole - not too big, otherwise you won't keep warm. The idea is to get out of the wind, and get some shelter. A sort of igloo is what we're talking about here. They can retain heat quite well - just make sure that there are no holes in the structure.

    However, do not make your igloo on the road and do not make it in a snowdrift near a road. The other thing that kills people in many areas after a blizzard is snowplows plowing people and their cozy snow shelters to the side of the road.

  • Caught in an Avalanche

  • If you're really unlucky, this could happen. You will probably be completely disorientated - to the extent that you're not even sure which way is up. The easy way to find 'up' is to use gravity - drop an object from the centre of the hollow that you're in. Dig the opposite way to the direction it fell. You may want to dig on a slight incline, or cut foot/hand holes in the column that you create. Keep checking the direction - it's easy to become confused.

Blizzards and Winter Storms

Simply never go out into blizzard conditions. A wind chill of -55°F can freeze exposed skin in seconds, and the warmest clothing offers no protection again such cold (common in blizzards). In addition, factoring in disorientation due to whiteouts - it is quite easy to freeze to death in one's own door yard once hypothermia sets in (a matter of minutes).


There are various things you need to do if a hurricane decides to visit you. If your house is on high ground and built out of bricks, you can stay inside and be relatively safe. All windows should be covered with wood or any other strong object. If you can't do that, taping the glass with a cross in duct tape should help keep the glass together in case something hits the window - that way glass won't get thrown everywhere. If a window gets broken, another window should be opened, to let the air that comes in out again. You should also pack water and food and a battery operated radio is useful too. If you don't live on high ground or you live in an unsound structure - flee. Follow the hurricane evacuation routes.

When the wind gets in, no structure is safe. One broken window may mean you lose your roof, and then everything is lost. Preventing broken windows and doors is the most important part. Steel storm shutters and roll downs usually do the best job. These tend to absorb high impact by yielding to the onslaught without penetration. Wood, unless especially designed for the job, does very little good if winds rise above Category Two strength winds.

Storm surge, caused by low pressure at the centre of the storm, can raise the high tide an additional 12 or 14 feet. On an island where the highest point is 12 feet above sea level, it would be prudent to live on the second floor or higher, and try to live close to the highest point.

One thinking point for seeking shelter during a hurricane is to look to structures that you know have survived a major storm well. Construction is everything, and if it made it through a big one once, it will likely make it again.

The worst part of a major hurricane is the period from ten days to two weeks afterward. Be prepared to be without power for fourteen days. This can mean a hundred batteries in a standard flashlight. While emergency crews will likely make fresh water available as a number one priority, canned goods and foods that require no preparation or refrigeration are required.

While an excellent opportunity to quit smoking, the stress of doing it under those conditions is not recommended. If martial law prevails, no stores or bars will be able to sell anything, even if you are doing serious cold turkey. The same applies to prescriptions, eyeglasses, and any other substance you feel you must have.

Medical care may also be in short supply, so make sure you have the basics for emergency care and treatment.

All in all, preparation is the key to surviving...


If you are caught in the open during a lightning storm:

  • Keep low. Try not to be the tallest thing around. Put away your umbrella.

  • Keep away from tall objects that might attract the lightning. Don't shelter under a tall tree. It's better to get soaked with rain than struck by lightning.

  • If you are genuinely stuck in the middle of a large open space and the lightning is all around you, crouch down so that you are as low as possible, keeping your feet close together. But don't lie on the ground; if you are lying on the ground when lightning hits something nearby, you may be burned as the lightning spreads out through the ground's surface.

  • Be wary of wearing jewellery if caught in a lightning storm. Discard anything metallic as soon as possible.

  • The best place to be in a thunderstorm is in a car because if lightning does strike the car, the charge will remain on the outside of the shell. This is known as a Faraday Cage.

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